Why our media industry trade bodies have a battle on their hands

The former Campaign deputy editor Jeremy Lee gives us the inside track on the stories that have got the ad industry talking.

It’s been quite a year for those puntastic branding agencies that have been responsible for either creating – or injecting new life – into the media industry’s trade bodies.

The magazine industry’s trade body Magnetic (see what they did there?) launched at the beginning of the year, while the venerable Radio Advertising Bureau brand was put out to pastures in the summer and replaced by Radiocentre. The fact that the latter didn’t go for something punningly awful and blindingly obvious like ‘Radio-active’, which I bet was on the list of suggestions, is to the credit of its management team.

Last week the outdoor industry became the latest to follow the trend with the renaming of the Outdoor Media Centre (formerly known as the Outdoor Advertising Association) into Outsmart. Its leadership is provided by the impressive Alan Brydon, formerly of Havas Media, who has filled a position that had traditionally been staffed by rather grey men in the twilight of their careers – a smart hire indeed.

Of course this branding frenzy all begun with the launch of the television industry’s Thinkbox in 2005, which at the time seemed a curious name. Pedants could now suggest that given the shift of viewing from the set in the corner to other platforms, the allusion to a box seems a little weakened and quaint, even if the body itself acknowledges that TV viewing includes content viewed on whatever screen.

Nonetheless as a blueprint for success, if Magnetic, Outsmart and Radiocentre (as well as the more troublesome Newsworks) manage to emulate Thinkbox’s continued success at effectively marketing their respective wares – and policing inaccurate opinion pieces about their media – then that’s a good start.

The role of running a trade body is not without challenges beyond the inherent prejudices of those young media planners or buyers who may (entirely understandably) use their personal bias to either up or downweight a media channel based on their own consumption. As Tess Alps, Sue Todd, Siobhan Kenny, Rufus Olins and now Brydon are aware, they are also charged with the intensely political role of balancing sometimes conflicting and competing interests.

An early crack appeared at Thinkbox when the famously parsimonious Richard Desmond withdrew Channel 5’s funding of the body but was still happy to benefit from its halo effect. Happily this was reversed this year when Sky Media won the sales contract following its disposal to Viacom.

Rufus Olins over at Newsworks also has to put up with the absence of Northern & Shell, while also trying to keep its famously warring rival publishers from each other’s – and his own – throats.

Brydon inherits a similar situation with outdoor’s largest player – JCDecaux – no longer a member, having inexplicably flounced out in January this year. Again, it seems unfair that this French multinational should benefit from the contribution made by dynamic smaller players such as Primesight, Outdoor Plus and Ocean Outdoor to showing how effective the outdoor palette is.

It’s not all plain sailing over at Radiocentre either, which in a previous iteration was responsible for multiple local radio stations, but now has just two shareholders and if either Bauer or Global decided they’d be better served in-house then its future would look very precarious.

The most recent Advertising Association/Warc figures show that TV, radio and outdoor advertising are all expected to enjoy significant uplifts this year, which will go some way to alleviating some of the pressure on the respective chiefs of Thinkbox, Radiocentre and Outsmart.

But with magazines and news brands all expecting to endure drops in revenue, Todd and Olins may have their work cut out trying to prove not just the worth of the media to the industry but also their personal value as well as keeping all the stakeholders happy.

The best solution may be to fix rictus grins and get those plates spinning.

Follow Jeremy Lee on Twitter @jezzalee